Nation's Top 'Clean Coal' Project Abandoned


Photo credit: Joost J. Bakker via Flickr/CC BY

American Electric Power, one of the largest utility companies in the U.S., has announced that it's abandoning plans to build a carbon sequestration plant that would capture the emissions of a nearby 30 year-old coal-fired power plant. The project was the largest and most prominent effort to make so-called 'clean coal' a reality in the nation. And it's kaput.

The New York Times explains why:

American Electric Power has decided to table plans to build a full-scale carbon-capture plant at Mountaineer, a 31-year-old coal-fired plant in West Virginia, where the company has successfully captured and buried carbon dioxide in a small pilot program for two years.

The technology had been heralded as the quickest solution to help the coal industry weather tougher federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions. But Congressional inaction on climate change diminished the incentives that had spurred A.E.P. to take the leap.

Company officials, who plan an announcement on Thursday, said they were dropping the larger, $668 million project because they did not believe state regulators would let the company recover its costs by charging customers, thus leaving it no compelling regulatory or business reason to continue the program.

Just a few things I'd like to note here -- First, carbon capture and sequestration is, in my opinion, simply not a key climate solution. It's expensive, requires a huge volume for underground storage, keeps us reliant on coal mining, is ecologically dangerous, and needs strict, specific laws or government regulation before utilities the world over will consider it. It's an unwieldy prospect, and still quite infeasible -- so the abandonment of this plant doesn't break my heart.

However, the underlying trend that the plant's closure suggests is far more disturbing: Power companies sensed a wind change a couple years back, when it looked like climate laws were inevitable, and began investing in carbon emissions-reducing technology. This is a clear signal that those companies no longer fear such laws, and are shifting back to the status quo -- focusing on generating power as cheaply as possible, no matter how emissions-heavy.

It means utilities won't invest as substantially in clean energy projects, that companies won't take energy efficiency as seriously, and so forth -- and it means the corporate sector's incentive to cut back on their global warming pollution is slipping away.

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